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Scouting the Matchup: Brady's return will lift Pats

The return of Ton Brady will be a huge lift for the Patriots offense.


Running back LeGarrette Blount has been a feel-good story for Patriots fans for much of this season and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September. Blount led the NFL in rushing yards (298) and average rushing yards per game (99.3) through New England's first three outings. He was also tied for the NFL lead in rushing touchdowns with four. He ran for at least one TD in each of New England's first three games and surpassed the 100-yard mark in victories over Miami (123) and Houston (105). But he was held to 54 yards on 13 carries in Sunday's 16-0 loss to Buffalo, a game in which New England ran for 90 yards. It will be interesting to see if Blount's workload decreases now that Tom Brady is back behind center. Assuming that's the case, Blount will need to be more productive earlier in games in order to continue having his number called. The more likely scenario would be for the Patriots to ask Blount to run the clock out in Cleveland.  Advantage: PATRIOTS


This may be the game's key matchup, since the Cleveland offense will likely have to have significant success moving the ball on the ground to stay competitive and still have a chance to win once the game reaches the fourth quarter. The Patriots run defense has been average this season, ranking 15th in that department at the one-quarter pole. The Browns have done a good job establishing the run under first-year head coach Hue Jackson. Browns running back Isaiah Crowell leads the AFC and is second in the NFL in rushing with 394 yards and is tops in terms of average at 6.5 yards per carry. His ability to produce on the ground has allowed Cleveland to stay competitive in most of their games thus far and will be key on Sunday. Advantage: BROWNS


New England should enjoy a significant edge in this area, as long as Tom Brady hasn't lost his touch. New England's passing numbers are skewed because of its quarterback situation through the first four games (Jacoby Brissett attempted only 19 passes in the team's victory over Houston). The passing attack figures to improve with Brady's return and once tight end Rob Gronkowski is closer to 100-percent healthy, but tight end Martellus Bennett caught five passes for 109 yards against Buffalo. Cornerback Joe Haden, the best player in the Browns secondary, did not play in the Browns Week 3 loss to Miami because of a groin injury, but he returned to the lineup last weekend against Washington. Haden has two of the team's five interceptions this season, but even with the Pro Bowler this is not a good secondary. Brady should enjoy his return. Advantage: PATRIOTS


Passing the ball is not Cleveland's strength. The Browns rank near the bottom of the NFL in passing yards, which is no surprise since the team is using its No. 3 quarterback. Cody Kessler, a rookie out of USC, was moved into the starting role following shoulder injuries to starter Robert Griffin III and backup Josh McCown. Kessler, a third-round pick in this year's draft, replaced McCown in a Week 2 loss to Baltimore and has thrown for one touchdown and has been intercepted once in 73 pass attempts. Cleveland's passing game would have welcomed Josh Gordon's return from a four-game suspension, but the wide receiver announced last week that he was putting his football career on hold and entering a rehabilitation facility. Also, rookie Corey Coleman is nursing a broken hand and is out. The one guy to keep an eye on is Terrelle Pryor, who the Browns have used in a variety of way. Pryor is a dynamic athlete capable of making big plays.  Advantage: PATRIOTS


The Patriots turned in a dominating performance on special teams during a 27-0 Week 3 victory over Houston. Punter Ryan Allen was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after he placed six of his seven punts inside the 15 against the Texans. He had a net average of 47.6 yards per punt. New England also forced two fumbles on kickoff coverage that led to touchdowns against Houston. Allen averaged 52.2 yards on six punts in last week's loss to Buffalo, but Stephen Gostkowski missed his second field-goal attempt of the season in that game. The Browns signed kicker Cody Parkey after Patrick Murray injured his left knee before Cleveland's third game, but Parkey missed three field goals -- including a potential game-winner -- in the loss to the Dolphins. He bounced back with makes from 45 and 51 yards last week in Washington, but Gostkowski's track record is much stronger. Look for New England to bounce back. Advantage: PATRIOTS


Under normal circumstances, this would be a spot where you might expect the Patriots to come out flat. One of the league's top teams (New England) facing a bottom-feeder (Cleveland) on the road, where the home team can use its heavy-underdog status at a motivator. That recipe resulted in a 34-14 win by the Browns when the teams met 2010. These aren't normal circumstances, however. New England should benefit from having Brady back from a four-game suspension. He'll be eager to show that the Patriots are still at their best with him in the lineup. The Patriots are also coming off a lackluster effort against Buffalo, and it's hard to envision back-to-back poor performances. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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